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Nocturne

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
(46803)
Number: 222
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 202 x 294 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 9
Known impressions: 59
Catalogues: K.184; M.181; W.150
Impressions taken from this plate  (59)

TECHNIQUE

Whistler began Nocturne in pure etching, and then added and rejected various drypoint details through the course of nine states, and allowed the remaining drypoint to wear away during printing of the final state. In printing the plate as it progressed, he first used plate tone, wiped horizontally, to indicate water and darkening sky. In the final state, he left more ink on the plate surface. Smooth, dark ink tones produced an atmospheric evening or nocturnal effect, as in the following example.
Impression: K1840406
Alternatively, adding diagonal or radiating wiping strokes produced dramatic sunset effects, as in the impression below:
Impression: K1840423
Plate tone on this impression of Nocturne, appears to have been manipulated by hand, as the variation in tone at top and bottom reflect the pattern of fingertips pulled through the ink, away from the central subject. 7

7: Linda Stiber-Morenus, Senior Paper Conservator, Library of Congress, in conversation with M. Hausberg, 2009.

PRINTING

Some sixty impressions are known. Whistler kept proofs of the third state, which he annotated '1st state - 1st proof - Venice 1879' (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840102), and of the fourth state (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840204). They are printed in black ink, with no surface tone. There were few impressions of the early states: a first and a third state were printed in black ink on ivory laid paper with a VAN GELDER watermark (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840103, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840102); while the second, also in black, was on an off-white, possibly Asian, paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840104). A fourth state was in brown ink on thick ivory laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840204); and a fifth, again in black ink, on ivory laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840202).
Some new states reflected the need to keep the copper plate in a good condition, and mark minor changes in emphasis. In the fifth state Whistler made a number of changes to the composition of Nocturne, drawing in the gondolas that give it a sense of space and scale. Otherwise in each state he made delicate adjustments in drypoint. Thus there were substantial editions of the principal states, but there were also smaller printings of intermediary states. 8

8: See MacDonald 2001 , p. 92.

Letters, lists, invoices and receipts document Whistler's edition of the twelve etchings of the 'First Venice Set' for the Fine Art Society. The F.A.S. recorded that Whistler delivered fourteen impressions of Nocturne on 16 February, six on 6 April, and four on 25 August 1881; single impressions on 24 January 1882, and on 25 January, 21 March, 7 and 9 April 1883; ten on 13 July 1883; one on 6 March 1884; three on 6 February, three on 20 July and ten on 29 July 1885; six on 13 January and nine on 25 June 1887; six on 11 April and twenty on 2 May 1889. 9

9: F.A.S. to Whistler, 20 December 1888, GUW #01217, 2 May 1889, #01221.

A fairly large printing of the sixth state perhaps represented his first delivery to the F.A.S. on 16 February 1881, although it is hard to be certain. They were printed in dark brown ink on, for instance, cream Japan, buff laid and ivory wove paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840325, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840503, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840311); and in black ink on a variety of papers including off-white and ivory laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840407, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840304), ivory 'antique' (pre-1800) laid (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840323), off-white and pale cream Japan, and cream Asian wove paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840z10, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840306, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840302).
As Whistler was printing the plate for the F.A.S. he made notations in a private code in the margins or on the verso of impressions that were to be selected for sale or exhibition, or as a record of numbers printed, or the date of printing. For instance several sixth states - all probably dating from 1881 - have notations; these include
'o / w.' beside the pencil butterfly (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840304),

'II.(x)' in the lower right margin (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840302),

'o' by the butterfly and 'v7. x/12' in the right margin (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840311).

In addition one late impression of the final state has the notation: 'xx / 7' in the left margin (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840303). Other notations may have been rubbed out or cut off, and as yet there is insufficient data to break the code.
Few impressions of the seventh and eight states exist - perhaps these were the small deliveries recorded in 1882; one was printed in dark brown ink on ivory laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840321) and another on cream 'antique' laid paper with 'WW' watermark (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840320).
The main print-run was in the ninth state. They were printed in dark brown ink on cream laid paper with the water- or counter-mark 'IV' (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840401); ivory (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840403, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840424) and cream laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840z06, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840z01); 'antique' laid (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840421, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840504) and cream 'modern' laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840420z). Some are in dark brown or black ink on ivory laid with a Strasbourg Lily watermark (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840423, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840402), others on paper watermarked with initials (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840307, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840502), and a posthorn (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840405). Impressions are also found in black ink on Japanese paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840413, Graphic with a link to impression #K1840303), ivory laid (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840409) and off-white laid paper with a 'FELLOWS / 1804' watermark (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840406). Some of these later impressions must date from the final printing in 1889.
Impression: K1840407Early impressions, and many on fragile Asian papers, were usually printed leaving a margin. However, by 1881, from the sixth state on (as in the impression reproduced above), most impressions were trimmed to the platemark and signed on a tab with Whistler's butterfly and 'imp.', to show that he had printed them or that they were printed under his supervision. However, there are some variations, since some early states were signed much later, presumably when they were delivered. These include a sixth state, signed around 1889/1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840503). One seventh state was signed with a large butterfly and this was later replaced with a smaller one (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840321), and some final (ninth) states were signed in the early 1880s (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840402) but most around 1886 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840423).
On 26 April 1889 the Fine Art Society received the cancelled plate. 10 Cancelled impressions were printed in dark brown ink on light-weight 'antique' laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840601) and cream Japanese paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1840602), with light surface tone carefully wiped to show that the plate was still in fairly good condition.

10: F.A.S. to Whistler, 20 December 1888, GUW #01220.